Editor’s Note: The following is an abridged version of a story that will appear in the next issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal, online and on newsstands Jan. 9.
Crafton Tull, a full-service architecture, engineering and surveying firm based in Rogers, has seen its share of change since founders Bob Crafton and Lemuel “Lem” Tull opened the business in 1963.
Since 1970, though, there has been one constant – Tom Hopper. He was hired in February that year as a graduate engineer, and by 1977 had become an owner of the company, along with Crafton, Tull and Gene Reece.
Hopper has held a key leadership role seemingly ever since. He’s spent several years as either president, CEO or both, and has been chairman of the Crafton Tull board of directors since 2000 following the retirement of Bob Crafton.
“He’s worked here longer than the two founders,” said Matt Crafton, who, in 1998, joined the company his dad co-founded, and was appointed Hopper’s successor as president and CEO in 2009. “I have known Tom Hopper since I was a little boy.”
A few weeks ago, though, Hopper, 69, determined he was ready for an easier schedule. With little fanfare, he sent an internal e-mail Nov. 8 to all Crafton Tull employees to let them know of his intention to retire as chairman on Nov. 30. He spent most of the month of December tying up a few loose ends, transitioning away from the only company he’s ever worked for.
“There comes a time to say you’ve had all the fun that you need,” he said during a recent interview at Crafton Tull headquarters in Rogers. “The reality is you need to step aside and let some other, younger folks pick up the flag.”
Crafton Tull has two events scheduled in February related to Hopper’s departure. One to choose his successor, the other to honor him. The company has 32 stockholders who meet once a year to elect a nine-member board, all of them Crafton Tull employees. They’ll do that next month, and the board will decide who the next chairman will be.
And although Hopper – a measured and understated leader – would say his exit is not a big ordeal, others feel differently, and have convinced him the milestone should be commemorated. Crafton Tull has organized a retirement dinner at the Embassy Suites hotel on Feb. 18 to do just that.
For nearly 47 years, Hopper has quietly laid the groundwork for Northwest Arkansas’ current and future business success. Combined with his efforts as an economic and commercial developer, his peers say he has put together a resume as one of the area’s most significant business and civic leaders.
“Few people have had as much influence on the growth and development of Northwest Arkansas as Tom Hopper,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Rogers who was the city’s mayor from 1999 to 2010. “In just about any direction you look up here, you’ll find his fingerprints on the area’s transformation. He has been a major player in land and infrastructure development in this region during a period of unprecedented growth.”